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It’s Never Too Late for Spring Cleaning

IMG_3465I’ve been AWOL on posting here at Library Lost & Found, but with good excuse. Well, it seems good to me. I just came out the other side of a major kitchen remodel project at home that started at Spring Break and continued through the madness of the end of a school year at two busy middle school libraries. As with any major project of any sort, it was a learning experience. Besides being a creative adapter in the feeding ourselves department, my husband and I made a pact that I think library leaders should consider. As the new amazing space took shape and the project wrapped up so we could start moving back in, we made a firm decision that EVERYTHING would have to earn its place before it moved back in. We would BOTH have to love it, need it, and see it as an asset to the functionality AND beauty of the new space.

Now, for some of you, this is probably easy. But for me, things have stories and memories and I have trouble parting with things sometimes. The new kitchen does not need every piece of glassware I’ve ever owned. So, the unpacking has taken longer doing it when my husband and I are both here than if I did it alone, but the transformation is dramatic. Gone are duplicate utensils, knives that we never use, coffee mugs with company logos, the pendulum wall clock that was a wedding gift 28 years ago (donated to a community sale and it will make someone very happy), the drawer of phone books (? what is this thing you call “phone book?”) and other items we rarely used. We are foodies and cook and bake a lot, so we have a lot of cooking gadgets but really, we don’t need all of this stuff. We are not done unpacking yet, but what we have unpacked has a place behind doors, will be used, and if on display, makes us smile. The space is clean, clutter-free, functional, and stocked with only cherished items.

This process made me look at my two libraries differently. My time is limited at each since I bounce back and forth and decorating is low on the list of things I need to attend to when I am in the building. I am fortunate to have two very neat secretaries who keep the circulation area and the library in general neat and uncluttered. But then there is my office. And my desk. And the walls. There is work to do. I do decorate the enormous bulletin boards because it is a chance to promote materials and services but one library has huge pastel professionally- framed Tulip Time posters that have been there since before I started in 1991. If I apply the principal of things having to earn their place to this library, those posters HAVE TO GO. Yes, Tulip Time is important to Holland, but I don’t think there are ANY middle school students who would tell me that they enjoy seeing these “art prints.” My secretary and I hate them in this setting. You can see one of them here if you are curious. No offense to the watercolor artist but I am looking for art that my teens will enjoy seeing…and I need to have back up so we can switch things up and not look at the same art all year or for decades. And once that decision was made we started looking around. Some signage is faded, and the walls are boring. It’s my goal for rainy days this summer off, to go in and do some clean up. Make some positive changes. Clean my desk. Purge my files. Keep only what I truly need so that when school starts in the fall the place will be clean, clutter-free, functional and stocked with only cherished items. And then I’m going to beg the art teacher for more student art. The pieces we have, we love.

So, library leaders, without committing the mistake that the Urbana Free Library director made, take a look around today at your library. Start with yourself. What does your office say about you? Then go outside your library front door and look at the door. What do you see? Is it what you want your patrons to see first when they visit? Is the information bulletin board full of outdated information? Does the free puzzle exchange collection need a new location and a better storage system? Is your signage adequate or does it need sprucing up? If you didn’t know where to go, would you be able to figure it out? Do you have a staff member who needs some special attention to organizing their work area? Do you give the same attention to all departments in resources for decor and organization? I remember visiting the Kalamazoo Public Library when Kevin King was the head of teen services. I saw his wall posters being displayed in black poster frames. Huh. Mine were laminated and taped to the walls. I felt so cheap. An $8 poster frame would make such a difference to the look of the area. Who knew?

Now that I have you thinking, and looking, act on it. Could you pick a time of the year for each department (or the whole library) to do their “spring cleaning?” The youth librarians will kill you with their eyes or a sharp reading prize if you pick the summer reading club months to tackle this with them, but surely there is a time that can work and it could be fun. Ask for ideas from your staff. Perhaps gift certificates for office organizing supplies could be given to the employee who makes the most significant change or comes up with the best ideas? Have fun with it. Me? I just made some cheesy scrambled eggs with a side of whole grain toast slathered with my homemade Michigan strawberry jam that I made last week and I’m enjoying it in my new kitchen. I need energy to tackle those Tulip Time posters!

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Lean Lessons

leanlibraryI am just entering the world of Lean, which promises to cut waste, processing time and improve customer service. I first got excited about bringing these concepts to my library when I heard my fellow blogger, Kevin King, and some of his KPL colleagues speak about how they used lean concepts to shape up their interlibrary loan process and processing room. Just this week, I started reading Lean Library Management by John Huber and my excitement has only increased! Here’s some early lessons that I’ve learned from the book and KPL’s presentation.

1. Your library is a business and therefore, in competition with other, for-profit businesses.

Libraries are in direct competition with all kinds of places. From Amazon and Barnes & Noble to the local community center and Starbucks. We offer services that all of these businesses offer as well, and you’d better believe they want people to use theirs instead. Just because our services are free, doesn’t, by any means, mean people will automatically choose libraries.

Here’s a perfect, and personal example. For years, I paid $23.00 a month for Audible, a fantastic digital audiobook service, even though I had access to Overdrive through my library, which is free. Why? Because I found Audible to be more convenient in all the ways that mattered to me. Since then, Overdrive has become easier to use, and my budget has decreased, so I’m using it instead. But the lesson here is, free doesn’t always make up for all sins. Figure out who you’re really competing against and compare your customer service, wait times and programming to those businesses. How can you match or beat them? You’d be surprised how well you can compete if you look at it this way.

2. Becoming leaner removes barriers between you and your customers.

I’m not really sure why I had never thought of this myself, but when I read it in one of Huber’s opening chapters, it was such an “aha” moment for me. A lot of people, especially those with ties to the auto industry (which is a lot of people in Metro Detroit, where I’m writing from) get worried when they hear terms like “lean,” “kaizen” or “5S”. In for-profit businesses, eliminating waste can often lead to downsizing. This is not the goal, though. The goal is to remove any non-value-added steps in a process that stand between you and your customers. In libraries, this means your staff will have more time to give patrons high quality service, and to creatively think and to develop out of the box ideas to make service even better. Let’s say one of your technical services people is able to cut the time they spend processing by two hours per week. Now you as a manager have the opportunity to give this person a project that engages their mind instead of just their hands. That leads me to my last point.

3. People like to work at their highest level at least some of the time.

So, this previously mentioned technical services person, maybe they’re really good at creating displays, or harbor a secret passion for books about quantum physics. Do you think they enjoy doing rote tasks all day? Probably not. Freeing them up to do more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding (for both them and the library’s patrons) work will make everyone happier in the end. Don’t let rank stop you from giving people higher level tasks that they show an aptitude for. If you take this tack when you’re introducing a new culture for change, you’re also likely to see more excited faces than you are wary ones.

I’ve got a long way to go before I implement lean processes in my library, so I’d love to hear your lean library stories! Hit me up in the comments!